Renovate, not replace.
In a nutshell, that was the overall message that Thomas J. Comitta, president of West Chester-based town planners and landscape architect firm Thomas Comitta Associates Inc. recommended to the Hatboro Borough Council during Monday night's meeting.
Comitta, who has worked in his profession for four decades and represented 115 municipalities, had been hired last year to carry out a facilities study of borough-owned buildings to determine how best to plan for the future. On Monday, he shared that $2.7 million worth of "adaptive reuse" fixes made more sense than previous plans to demolish and build anew.
In all, Comitta said he looked at borough hall, the adjacent borough hall annex where Victorian Village Italian Bistro and other shops are located, the Hatboro Police Department, the Public Works building, as well as borough parks.
Public Works could expand to Eaton Park
"I was struck that there are some possibilities at Eaton Memorial Park that would actually free up and loosen up some of the overtaxed facilities," Comitta told the governing body, adding that the West Moreland Avenue park could house a Public Works annex in the space where tennis courts had previously been located. "Fortunately there’s plenty of elbow room in that location."
Comitta suggested building a 40 foot by 94 foot building to house vehicles and equipment. As a park "amenity," he recommended a 20 foot by 40 foot bandshell, or amphitheater, for park entertainment such as plays and concerts.
Upgrades eyed for Hatboro Police Department
At the 50-year-old police station, Comitta recommended roughly $1.1 million of the $2.7 million total improvements. In all, Comitta suggested more than a dozen improvements and modifications including:
- The entrance and exit to the building should be improved and the lanes widened
- Relocation of the building that used to house bicycle storage
- Relocation of the public works garage and facilities
- Additional parking
- Rearranging the existing entryway for prisoners to allow for secure and easily accessible entry
- New offices and interview rooms
- Additional file storage
- Kennel for lost dogs
- Bike parking
- Relocation of the borough's emergency management coordinator from borough hall
Comitta told Patch after his presentation that he estimated the total facilities upgrades would carry a roughly 30-year life.
"The building is structurally sound," he said of the police building.
If the police station were to be demolished and rebuilt, Comitta estimated it would cost a "daunting" $3 million to $5 million. And, most likely, officials would be faced with similar space constraints.
"They're not going to make the lot any bigger," Comitta said, adding that additional floors could be built, but would require elevators and likely a bigger price tag.
Council President John Zygmont said it was Comitta's willingness to seek options aside from just rebuilding that convinced the governing body to hire him.
"Three of the four (other firms interviewed) came in with pictures of new facilities right from the start," Zygmont said.
Possible improvements to Borough Hall
Comitta said he looked at what might be a "more graceful way" to enter the municipal building. Now, individuals can either park and enter on the side, following signs to their desired location, or park on the side and walk to the front of the building, up several steps and into the administration portion of borough hall.
Comitta told Patch that one of his concepts involved signage being placed out front, directing individuals to enter at the side door. Once inside, Comitta said officials could "cut out windows" along the wall to the left to create a reception area of sorts. This too, would help direct people where they needed to go, he said.
"It was all about the actual sequence," Comitta said. "What is the most user friendly way to use this building?"
Other improvements he suggested include:
- Rearranging office space to maximize efficiency
- Plan for a new second floor use with the relocation of district court
- Adding a partition in the existing council meeting room so two smaller meetings could be held simultaneously
Suggested improvements to Public Works
Besides housing equipment and vehicles at Eaton Park, Comitta said he envisions the grass area in front of the existing public works building serving as an extension of the garage. A "cantilever space" could house second floor offices, he said.
Other suggested improvements include:
- Additional indoor vehicle parking and equipment storage
- Expanding restrooms and showers
- Additional outdoor parking
- Improved pedestrian access
"There are some good possibilities there," Comitta said.
The governing body took no action Monday night. Zygmont said the council would "hopefully" discuss Comitta's facilities suggestions during the March committee meeting.
Comitta told Patch that as part of his $20,000 contract with Hatboro, he provided conceptual drawings for all of the plans.
"Council decides what's first or next," he said.
Should the council move forward, Comitta said Hatboro would need to hire a local architect - who works in Hatboro regularly and is familiar with its code - to put together construction documents.
The $2.7 million cost for all of the work that Comitta suggested is based on 2013 values. That amount should be adjusted by 2 percent each year for inflation, he said.
The cost does not account for the district court relocation, new furniture, or the expense of moving furniture, supplies and equipment, he said.
"We wouldn’t start tomorrow to build anything," Comitta said during the meeting. "But we would start tomorrow to get our ducks in line."
Applying for grants, once the council decides how best to move forward, would be a first step, he said.
After seeing other towns obtain bids for what he deemed the "Taj Mahal effect" - and eventually building nothing - Comitta said he opted for a more cost-effective approach.
"Why don’t we do it in the most practical way, the most achievable way?" Comitta asked. "A lot of municipalities have just been unable to implement their vision."